Friday, August 26, 2016

Rhode Island Historical Cemetery, Cumberland 3 (August 26, 2016) -- Part V

Ater 1941, the records for Cumberland Cemetery go silent until 1947 when Everett S. Carpenter received an inquiry from a woman in Wisconsin about any record of a George Lapham being buried in the cemetery sometime between 1828 and 1860. The typed inquiry letter, dated 2-19-47 in someone's handwriting, is shown immediately above.

On March 31, 1947, Everett Carpenter (my maternal grandfather) replied to Miss Olene Lapham to inform her that he had no record of the burial of a George Lapham in Cumberland Cemetery. He also told her that he had personally walked the cemetery to inspect all the remaining headstones, but could not find one with the name George Lapham on it.  As he explained to Miss Lapham, "[T]he old records for this cemetery have been lost, and the present members of the corporation are badly handicapped in trying to dig out any ancient history." Given that Miss Lapham could only date the death of her George Lapham sometime in a 32-year period between 1828 and 1860 (well before the incorporation of the Cumberland Cemetery in 1870), Everett must have been referring to burials in the area of the Cumberland Cemetery prior to lot sales that began in the 1870s. This inquiry and the response supply more evidence to support the belief that property within or adjacent to what is Cumberland Cemetery had been used as a burial ground for many years before the incorporation of Cumberland Cemetery and probably relates to the mention of "disused burying grounds east of the tombs" and other such references in the Trustee minutes and other documents previously posted in this series.

Another gap in the documents relating to Cumberland Cemetery occurred from 1947 until an undated, handwritten letter from a Mrs. Henry Barlow of 14 Grove street in Lonsdale, RI and a reply letter to her from Frank O. Lind, Jr., Town Solicitor for the Town of Cumberland, appeared in January 1952.

As shown immediately below, Mrs. Barlow had written a "Mr. Powers" at the Town of Cumberland regarding the care of various private cemeteries in the Town. The Town Solicitor had been instructed to investigate the Town's responsibility for such cemeteries and found that the Town had no funds for such activities and he referred Mrs. Barlow to my grandfather, Everett Carpenter, at his home address inasmuch as he was identified as an officer of the cemetery she was particularly interested in -- Cumberland Cemetery.

Sometime after January 23, 1952, Mrs. Barlow wrote to Everett Carpenter as suggested by Mr. Lind, the Cumberland Town Solicitor. Her letter was handwritten and she used the blank side of Mr. Lind's reply letter to her as a means of copying Everett with the nature of her inquiry.[1]  Mrs. Barlow's letter is shown below and is followed by a typed transcription to assist the reader.

                                                                                                        Mrs. Henry Barlow
                                                                                                              14 Grove St.
                                                                                                                Lonsdale, RI.

               Mr. Everett Carpenter
                    Dear Sir for the last two years I have been trying to interest some one in the
               condition of the Cumberland Cemetery it is a disgrace to any Town I am a shut
               in and unable to get out the last time I was in the cemetery I counted 30 flags for
               GAR men which could hardly be seen for the weeds and growth stones down either
               from vandalism or age or the weather fences burned and broken I was always of
               the opinion there was a fund left to care for it and perhaps you could tell me about
               it the other cemeteries of the Town have been well taken care of by the Town men
               but but you know the reason why the older ones buried there were once big tax
               payers in the Town if only in respect for those who fought in the Civil War I think
               something should be done about it and hope to interest you in it.
                                                                         Sincerely Mrs. H. Barlow
                                                                                          14 Grove St.

Myra Barlow was a very determined woman and she wrote to several others in 1952 seeking assistance to clean and care for the Cumberland Cemetery. On January 29, 1952, she wrote to Chester W. Williams, Division Chief of the State Division of Soldiers Welfare in Providence. She had recently read about the work Mr. Williams and Robert Scott were doing for cemeteries in which war veterans were buried. Mrs. Barlow drew their attention to Cumberland Cemetery and noted that "more than 30 graves" there had flag markings and most were for Civil War veterans.  She asked for their assistance in rectifying the conditions at the cemetery where flag markers had been broken, plants had become overgrown, etc.

Sometime prior to May 15, 1952, Myra Barlow wrote to Amos Egerton regarding the conditions at Cumberland Cemetery. Her hand written letter is undated, but it was specifically responded to by Everett Carpenter on behalf of the cemetery corporation on May 15, 1952. Mrs. Barlow's two-page letter with a transcription for the reader follows . . . 

                                                                                                                 Mrs. Henry Barlow
                                                                                                                      14 Grove St.
               Mr Amos Egerton [sic]
               Dear Sir I am trying to find out something about Cumberland Cemetery as they tell
               me you used to work there some times and I remember that they used to say there
               was a fund for the care of it if you did who paid you I tried three years ago [circa 
               1948?, see Everett Carpenter reply ltr. of May 15, 1952] to get the Cumberland
               Official to have the Town men clean it up but no results and I saw a piece in Sunday
               Journal about them buying bonds to get more money to pay care takers but it did not
               mention that cemetery it is a disgrace to any Town to have such a looking place
               where all the family has died or moved away as the ones buried there paid takes [sic]
               many years I am a shut in confined to a wheel chair and unable to get out but my
               folks are buried there and I wish something could be done about it so if you know
               anything if there was a fund or not will you please let me know I am one of the
               Mowrys and I will thank you very much, and will try and write to the towns people      
                                                                                                and oblige

                                                                                                       Mrs. Barlow

On May 15, 1952,Everett Carpenter, Secretary for Cumberland Cemetery, Inc., replied to Mrs. Barlow's handwritten letter to Amos Egerton (shown above) and in essence informed her that there were "no funds  whatever belonging to the corporation" and that it receives "no financial aid from the Town of Cumberland." Everett detailed some history of the corporation and the cemetery explaining that the Cumberland Cemetery was incorporated in 1870, but that there existed a burial ground at the site "for many years prior to that date." He further elaborated and mentioned how membership in the corporation had gradually dwindled due to death until only one member survived and then in 1939 the corporation was "reorganized" under new members. At that time,  two bequests under two different wills were received by the corporation, but only "for the perpetual care of two private plots." The upkeep of all other individual plots was left "wholly the responsibility of the owners" and "[a]s long as there were interested survivors of those buried there, individual lots were kept in good condition and the general appearance of the cemetery remained good." In sum, Mr. Carpenter agreed that while cemetery had "deteriorated badly over a number of years," the corporation [was] powerless to make any improvements without any money."

Mr. Carpenter did, however, end on a hopeful note stating,

               There is but one course open. Membership in the corporation is open to any
               original owner of a lot or his heirs or assigns. With a large membership and
               the willingness of these members to each do a small amount of manual labor,
               the whole area can be put in good condition and so maintained. 

Amos Egerton did indeed work at Cumberland Cemetery and was paid from corporation funds received from bequests to care for specific individual plots in the cemetery. [See, Part IV of this series for the details.] As shown below in Mr. Egerton's invoice/receipt dated December 22, 1954, he provided care for the graves of Dr. Howe and Mrs. Dana as well as that of James C. Dexter. 

The  intrepid Mrs. Barlow was undeterred by the unfortunate news from Everett Carpenter and the Cumberland Cemetery and on May 19, 1952 she wrote again to Chester W. Williams who served as Division Chief of the Rhode Island Division of Soldiers Welfare and was a member of the Graves Registration Committee within that Division. She reminded him of her letter to him in January of that year and stated she had not as yet received a reply. As Memorial Day approached, she once again outlined the situation at Cumberland Cemetery and pleaded the case for providing improvement and care of the cemetery where so many veterans were buried. She offered whatever assistance she could provide.

On May 26, 1952, Chester Williams replied to the two letters from Myra Barlow. Unfortunately, Mr. Williams could only inform Mrs. Barlow that the Rhode Island Graves Registration Committee chaired by Ralph S. Mohr was embarked on a project to "locate and map all of the cemeteries in the State of Rhode Island" and that they would get to "your neighborhood" when the ongoing work in Coventry, East and West Greenwich, Scituate, and towns in that area was completed. He summed up his response by stating, 

               Our ultimate objective is to see that these cemeteries, especially where there 
               are veterans buried, are kept in a decent and respectable condition. It will take
               some time, of course, for all of this to be accomplished, but I can assure you
               that there [is] something definite being done about it and when
               our engineer and field men get to your territory, we will certainly have them
               call on you for any assistance that you may wish to give.

There is also among the records a handwritten letter from Myra Barlow to Nathaniel Brown.  The letter is undated, but from its content it appears it may have been written after her letters to Chester Williams and particularly after his reply of May 26, 1952. She refers in her letter to a meeting of "the Cemetery Committee" and notes that she has "tried for the last three years to get some one interested in [the Cumberland Cemetery] without results."  By the time of this letter, Mrs. Barlow was no longer living at 14 Grove St. in Lonsdale, but had moved to 417 Front St. in Saylesville, R.I. She once again notes that she is confined to a wheel chair and states that she had not been to the Cumberland Cemetery in 9 years. A copy of what appears to be the last correspondence from Myra Barlow follows (with a transcription to assist the reader) -- and it is there that the undaunted efforts of Myra Barlow to obtain care and maintenance of the Cumberland Cemetery comes to a close (probably around 1955). 

                                                                                                    417 Front St
                                                                                                          Saylersville R.I.

               Mr Nathaniel Brown [2]
                    Friend Nat
               I am writing this in regard too the meeting of the Cemetery Committee I have tried
               for the last three years to get some one interested in that cemetery without
               results it is a disgrace to any Town the conditions it is in I wrote to Everett
               Carpenter and he wrote back and said he believed there was a sum left for it
               keeps but he believed it had all been used up I have not been ____ there in 9 years
               as I am confined to a wheel chair the vandals have taken about every thing they
               could move I am enclosing a letter I wrote to them and was hoping that they would
               get around to doing something about it I hope you are able to do something about it
               as it is a disgrace I even wrote to the Town Council to see if they could do something
               and clean it up some but not on the right side of the fence 
                    Here hoping you can do something
               I remain sincerely

                                     Mrs H Barlow
                                        417 Front St
                                              Saylesville R.I.

The last post in this series, Part VI, will provide images of some miscellaneous documents in the Cumberland Cemetery records I have inherited and I will attempt to summarize my thoughts on the history of this historic burial ground.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

All images are scanned from original documents in the collection of the author.

[1]  As can be seen in the image of the typed reply letter from the Town Solicitor -- and from the handwritten, undated letter to Everett Carpenter -- there are ghost images of the reverse side of each letter showing how Mrs. Barlow used the back side of Mr. Lind's reply to write to Everett Carpenter.

[2] Nathaniel Brown might be Nathaniel Dana Brown born in 1872 and died January 30, 1962. He is buried in Swan Point cemetery in Providence. Susie [Dana] Smith, daughter of Samuel P. Dana, is one of the two testators who left bequests for care of specific plots in the Cumberland Cemetery.  In her case, the bequest was for "upkeep of the Samuel Dana lot, so-called, and of the adjoining Howe lot, and to use, in [the cemetery corporatin's] discretion, any balance thereof for the general care and upkeep of the whole cemetery." [See, Part IV of this series.]  Might Nathaniel Brown be Nathaniel Dana Brown and if so, was he of the same Dana family as Susie Dana Smith? According to the 1910 Census, Nathaniel D. Brown lived in Cumberland, Rhode Island and was employed as an insurance agent. He and his wife, Nellie A. [Bills] Brown, had one child at the time (Earl age 11) and they lived at 237 High Street, which is just down High Street from my grandparents home at 551 High Street and not far from Cumberland Cemetery on Dexter Street. By the time of the 1940 Census, Nathaniel and Nellie lived at 21 Abbott Street  (which they owned) in Cumberland with their 23-year old daughter Natalie D. Brown. It appears that Nathaniel was the son of Moses and Abby Brown of Cumberland, but no connection to the Dana family has been found as yet.

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Copyright 2016, John D. Tew
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  1. Fascinating to see the demise of the cemetery. Although it was far more recent than many, it gives you an idea of how quickly burials could become neglected by families who died off, moved away, or were simply unwilling. Based on documents you showed us before, even the woman writing was responsible to keep her parents' graves up. Also I interesting to note what an afterthought the older graves were. This is, really, the story of every early Rhode Island cemetery. Thanks for posting, John.

  2. Fascinating read, John. I believe that most of the veterans buried in this cemetery are Rev War, including two of my ancestors; John Chace and his father-in-law, William Wilkinson. I think we last counted about a dozen Civil War soldiers, and more that 20 Rev War soldiers. The last couple of years I have made sure that all of the known vets have been flagged and especially for Memorial Day.